Lonestar Music Magazine - April 4, 2016
Joel Hofmann is a honky-tonk preservationist on at least two fronts. For starters, under his management, Central Texas landmark Riley’s Tavern specializes in various stripes of live retro-country and roots-rock. He’s also not afraid to strap on the guitar and make his own contribution to the tradition, and he’s blessed with the self-assured baritone voice to make it ring true. In the company of pros like guitar ace Big John Mills, bassist William “Billy Dee” Donahue, and country piano legend Earl Poole Ball providing solidly unfussy production and no shortage of great licks, his best material takes on a timeless quality. The vulnerability and nuance in numbers both heartbreaking (“This Old House”) and affectionate (“My Golden Nugget”) shows how Hofmann’s grown as a singer and songwriter since his 2008 debut, which was heavier on the outlaw swagger. He’s also adept at picking covers, with the kind-of-obscure Johnny Bush tune “Lillie’s White Lies” hitting just the right classic-country balance of cleverness and heartache in a well-deserved revival. There’s shout-outs aplenty to legends of the past (“Song For George,” “You’ll Have Me to Thank,” “Heaven’s Country Band”), but Hofmann’s reverence shines brighter on the relatable likes of “April’s Fool” and “80 Proof Heartache.” His commitment to the sound is the sincerest tribute of all.
— MIKE ETHAN MESSICK
NEW JOEL HOFMANN AND FRIENDS: LIVE AT RILEY'S SPOTLIGHTS CLASSIC COUNTRY STYLED WITH INFECTIOUS HONKY TONK BEAT
Central Texas resident's brand new album features all-star cast including Lone Star aces Johnny Bush, Bill Kirchen, Tommy Alverson and Tessy Lou Williams
SAN MARCOS, TEXAS – Joel Hofmann delivers personal narratives with an artist's eye (“Leaving Love All Over the Place”) and a novelist's elegance (“Isn't No Good Chain Gang”). Evidence: Joel Hofmann and Friends: Live at Riley's. The flawless new live collection spotlights the rapidly rising singer-songwriter interpreting personal favorites with unbounded enthusiasm (“Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age”). High energy and magnetism map the landscape. “We recorded all the songs live at Riley's Tavern,” Hofmann says, “then we did overdubs in the studio. There's a guest on most tracks.”
Those guests bring unmatched star power to the exciting new collection. “I have Johnny Bush on 'Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age,' Dallas Moore on 'Isn't No Good Chain Gang' and Bill Kirchen plays guitar and I cover his song 'Get a Little Gonner,'” Hofmann says. That's not all: “Tessy Lou Williams and I cover the old song 'Leaving Love All Over the Place,' Tommy Alverson and I do his song 'Buy Me a Bar and Put Me on the Jukebox,' Mike Ethan Messick and I do a song we wrote together called 'Not Borrowed Just Blue.” Additionally, Hofmann includes his self-penned “She's Not Cheating Today” as well as a songs by Mel Tillis, an homage to the man who passed away the day the band recorded.
Fans already know that Hofmann's elegant yet straightforward approach frequently turns heads throughout the state. “Joel Hofmann is as cool as the great old bar he owns called Riley's Tavern,” Alverson says. “With a big old baritone voice and a great band that plays great classic country music, this CD is sure to be a winner. I'm so proud I was able to be a part of it.” “I think of Joel Hofmann like an outlaw in 1880 that traded in his pistols for a guitar,” says Mike and the Moonpies' Mike Harmeier. “You better not mess with him when he plays music in his saloon.”
Hofmann's own tunes deliver keen insight with an everyman's grace. Check out his recent The Shop Sessions. “This house has been standing here at least a hundred years,” he sings on “This Old House.” “Its walls have seen most everything that human nature has to give/But what it saw today, it's a wonder it can stand, looking out that kitchen door as you pack our minivan.” The human condition fully framed in a single stanza. “I wrote 'This Old House' in 20 minutes,” Hofmann says. “It's similar to the song George Jones did called 'Bed of Roses,' about a guy who's at home and his wife is dead.”
The Shop Sessions effortlessly backs traditional country weepers (“80 Proof Heartache”) with sharp narrative songwriting (“The Golden Nugget”). His crack studio band serves as a key backdrop complimenting his sharp songwriting. “Such a treat for me to get to play on The Shop Sessions,” says his legendary roots pianist Earle Poole Ball (Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash). “He has certainly matured as a vocalist and his selection of great songs is perfect for the new CD. So rewarding to feel him putting more of his heart into the performances. A new level of his talent is revealed.”
The same blueprint frames Joel Hofmann and Friends: Live at Riley's. Listen. You'll find emotional depth rarely found in honky tonk dance hall shuffles throughout Hofmann's seamless interpretations. “I don't know about pain and tragedy like some people do,” he says. “We've had bad times and people have passed away, but I haven't had such a painful life as some folks do. Some people have these tragic lives they write about like Billy Joe Shaver, but I just relate to it even though I'm not down and out.”